Workplace equality is harder to achieve than it looks. Even if your company offers equal opportunities and pay regardless of gender, race or faith, that doesn't solve all the issues. Dealing with differences between genders, races, sexual orientations and other factors takes conscious effort. That's one of the disadvantages of equality in the workplace, but it's still worth it.
Recognizing that everyone is created equal is an American ideal. In the workplace, that requires recognizing individual talent and performance regardless of attributes such as nationality, age or ethnicity. One of the advantages of workplace equality is that a workplace culture where everyone feels valued and included frees workers to perform their best. Treating people equally is the right thing to do, but it's also good for business.
A major benefit of a corporate culture that embraces diversity and equality is that you get a wider range of thinking. No two people think alike, and a seriously diverse mix of employees can generate an equally diverse set of strategies, ideas and suggestions. That added creativity is an asset.
There are many other benefits of workplace equality:
- Diversity matters to many workers, particularly younger ones. If you're known as a company that welcomes a diverse team and treats people equally, that makes you attractive to talented job applicants.
- If you deal with other cultures, it helps to have someone who knows them from the inside. If you have Hispanic or Muslim employees, for example, they may spot red flags in your marketing campaign that you'd otherwise miss. Women employees can alert you to ad campaigns that reek of sexism.
- If you pick people for jobs based on stereotypes such as "women aren't good in STEM fields," you won't use your workforce's talents effectively. Appraise people based on ability, and you can maximize your staff's potential.
- Knowing that you don't just talk about equality but deliver on it will boost your company's reputation.
One disadvantage of equality in the workplace is that it doesn't come without effort. Many people suffer from some level of stereotyping about those with different genders, races, sexual orientations or nationalities. It often takes conscious effort to see past that and judge individuals fairly.
Getting a diverse staff to overcome stereotypes of each other can take work, possibly in the form of seminars and training programs. That takes time and money, but without training, you have to deal with other potential problems:
- Communication may be more tough in a diverse workforce, even if everyone is speaking English.
- Workers from cultures that value deference to management may not speak up without encouragement.
- Standards of polite behavior may differ wildly among employees.
- Employees may be self-conscious about what they say or the jokes they tell for fear of unintentionally offending someone.
- Employees from different groups may form cliques and avoid other groups, reducing the benefits of diversity.
- If some employees have bigoted attitudes, they may not keep their views in check. That can create a tense, hostile workplace.
Treating everyone equally doesn't mean treating them the same. Different groups have different needs, and the company needs to acknowledge them. For example, if you buy pulled-pork tacos for the office for lunch, that won't sit well with Jews and Muslims who don't eat pork.
One example of acknowledging differences is written into law as the Americans With Disabilities Act. Disabled workers are entitled to a "reasonable accommodation" to do the job: for example, adjusting the work schedule so they can receive medical treatment. Employers can't refuse accommodation and pick a nondisabled candidate, even if they think that would constitute equal treatment.
Among the pros and cons of gender equality in the workplace or of any kind of equality is that if an employee complains about harassment or discrimination based on "protected status," you need to respond.
Suppose a manager singles out nonwhite subordinates for criticism or sexually harasses women. If you get a complaint and don't take action, the company could end up on the hook for fines or damages. Workplace equality doesn't just happen – it has to be enforced.